How to Add Upholstery to a Rocking Chair
“Michael Thonet, an Austrian cabinetmaker who lived from 1796 to 1871, was obsessed with innovative design. In 1830,Thonet experimented with ways to steam and bend beechwood from the local forests into curved and sturdy, graceful chairs. By 1853, he had opened his own shop, Gebruder Thonet, and by 1860 was producing bentwood rocking chairs with woven cane seats and backs. Thonet's innovations included the first, affordable, factory-produced, assembly-line chairs that could be shipped in pieces and easily assembled.” (Source)
I don’t know if you find the history of rocking chairs to be interesting, but when I found this fascinating piece of furniture I had to do some research. The story above is what I learned about the $5 garage sale rocking chair I was so fortunate to stumble upon. I don’t know if this one is a real Thonet (I didn’t even think to try to look until after I’d painted...kicking myself for that), but I still love the curvy look and long flowing rocking motion, despite the lack of a seat.
When I stumbled upon this beauty I had to take it home, regardless of its imperfect condition. The woven seat was completely missing out of the seat frame, it had dings and dents, and a hole in the back. The woman I bought it from had attempted to fix it but life happened.
I decided to create an upholstered seat because I have no experience weaving wicker :). I’d like to share the process with you and hope to inspire you to add upholstery to a rocking chair someday.
What you will need:
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- ½” plywood that matches the size of the seat (scrap is best for this project!)
- Jig Saw
- 4” Foam
- Material of your choice
- Staple Gun
- Kreg Jig *
- 1 /1/4" Kreg Pocket Hole Screws*
First, remove the seat frame if possible. If not, you’ll have to take measurements or create a stencil using cardboard. The reason is, you need to get a precise measurement of the seat size in order to cut your plywood properly. Since my seat came out, I was able to simply trace around the inside rim.
Use a jig saw to cut your plywood out. Once it’s cut, you’ll want to drill pocket holes to attach it to the frame in a concealed manner. The Kreg Jig * is an awesome tool for this sort of thing. It creates strong joints that are easy to hide! Space your predrilled holes about 6-8 inches around the entire piece.
You are done with the frame for now, so if you removed it from the chair, go ahead and return it.
Now comes the upholstering part. I used to be afraid of reupholstering things, but it seriously could not be easier after a bit of practice (check out the wingback chairs I did). It’s only a matter of stapling down layers. So, you’ll want to cut your foam to match the shape of the seat.
Then, measure and cut your batting and material. Make sure you leave enough extra of the batting and material to wrap around to the “bottom” of the seat.
Before we go on, this is super important: as you are stapling on material, keep in mind that you will have to get to the pocket holes to attach the seat at some point. Either leave those areas clear of staples, or cut a hole to accommodate them.
When you are stapling the batting, feel free to space the stables pretty far apart. This is just a temporary hold until the fabric is applied.
To attach the fabric, I worked in sections. I started with stapling one in the middle of each side, pulling the fabric taught all the way. Next, the corners, then in between and in between again until it was well secured. This way I was positive it wasn’t going to be uneven at the end.
Once you have a comfy seat cushion, it’s time to get it attached to the frame by drilling the 1 ¼” screws into the pocket holes. Watch out for the batting which likes to twist around and create a stringy mess.
The only thing left to do now is paint...which sounds easier than it is in reality. I regretted not getting a paint sprayer during this project. All those loopy, curvy features are a pain to paint smoothly! All I can say, is good luck on that.
Though it was sad looking at first and a bit of a challenge to fix and paint, I’ve become quite fond of our bentwood rocking chair. The upholstered seat cushion was an easy project that involved a bit of jig saw work, pocket hole drilling, and stapling foam, batting, and material, and painting, while time consuming, was a rewarding process.
That Thonet was a genius for inventing a way to make these incredibly beautiful chairs so comfortable with their long rocking motion. I hope you have found inspiration in this post about how to add upholstery to a rocking chair!